Jerry Sloan's final gestures in a losing effort Monday night were a pointed finger, an angry outburst and a swift march to the Utah Jazz locker room. He disappeared from the court 2 minutes 34 seconds before the final buzzer. The Jazz may soon be gone as well.
The San Antonio Spurs drove the Jazz into fits of frustration, and then to the edge of playoff elimination, with a 91-79 victory at EnergySolutions Arena. The Spurs took a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference finals, and the best-of-seven series returns to San Antonio, where the Jazz have lost 18 games in a row, on Wednesday for Game 5.
Manu Ginobili, the Spurs' feisty swingman, took over the fourth quarter with his scoring, his chaotic style and his unique acting abilities. He scored 16 of his 22 points in the final quarter and also contributed mightily to the ejections of Sloan and Derek Fisher.
Fisher and Sloan earned two technical fouls in the final quarter. Each was ejected by the referee Steve Javie down the stretch. Fisher was frustrated after tangling multiple times with Ginobili, who on at least one occasion thrust himself into Fisher as they ran upcourt, then fell down.
"I really don't know why he got upset, because I can't recall doing anything for that to happen," Ginobili said of Fisher's ejection. "If that helps the team win, and gets a couple of easy free throws, I'm ready to do it."
Angry Jazz fans threw objects at the court at the final buzzer, and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich hurried his players off the floor rather than allow them to do the usual live television interview.
"I don't talk about those because all that does is get me in more trouble," Sloan said of the technicals. He declined to discus Ginobili's tactics for the same reason.
San Antonio overcame a poor shooting night by Tony Parker, who missed 13 of 19 shots but scored 17 points.
Deron Williams' coronation as a postseason star continued with a 27-point, 10-assist effort for the Jazz. Tim Duncan, who had one of the worst games of his playoff career in Game 3, bounced back with 19 points and nine rebounds.
Duncan was coming off an uncharacteristic 5-foul, 8-turnover game. His slumps rarely last more than a quarter or two, so the Spurs figured to get a more vintage effort Monday. Utah's aggressive defense again caused Duncan to cough up the ball he had five turnovers but he countered with his own stiff defense, including five blocks in the first three quarters.
Bruce Bowen's 3-pointer gave the Spurs a 55-44 lead, their largest of the night, early in the third quarter and momentarily quieted the crowd. The building rocked back to life when Carlos Boozer elevated to block a Duncan attempt at the rim, and the cheers grew louder as Utah got baskets from Williams and Gordan Giricek to pull within a point, 61-60.
San Antonio's championship mettle then became apparent. Utah got within a point three more times over the next few minutes, but failed again and again to score a momentum-turning basket.
A 3-pointer by Ginobili made it a 70-66 game, and the Spurs began to pull away. Williams had a turnover and missed a 22-footer. After the teams traded baskets, Duncan hit a pair of free throws and Parker a driving layup, and the lead was eight points. Duncan and Ginobili repeatedly went to the line in the next few minutes as the Spurs pushed the lead back to double digits.
A stomach virus had kept Williams out of Sunday's practice and Monday's morning shoot-around. Neither the virus nor the Spurs seemed to have any impact once the game started.
Williams blocked an early jumper by Parker and scored his first points, on an 8-foot runner, moments later. He reached halftime with a game-high 18 points, having made 7 of 11 field goals. But San Antonio had the lead, 50-42.
The Spurs took control in the second quarter, as Parker, Finley and Duncan got rolling. San Antonio repelled every surge. When the Jazz cut an eight-point deficit to two, the Spurs answered with an 11-4 burst. When Utah tried to close the gap in the final minutes of the first half, Finley hit a wide-open 3-pointer from the corner to extend the lead to nine points. The thought of Williams, the Jazz point guard, playing at anything less than 100 percent sent a shudder through the city. Williams, a rapidly rising star who has made his name in this postseason, is the Jazz's tempo-setter and its best clutch shooter.
Ninety minutes before tipoff, Sloan was still unsure of Williams' status, though he had a good sense of humor about the situation.
"We played against some guys over the years that were sick and killed us," Sloan said, "so I hope that works to our side this time." As if he needed to clarify, Sloan added, "Remember Michael Jordan?"